Pettigrew: Speaking Truth To Power

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By its candid, “speaking truth to power” presentation, Triumphant Plutocracy: The Story Of American Public Life From 1870 To 1920 is unlike any other political memoir by a former United States Senator.

But then author Richard F. Pettigrew was in a class by himself when it came to forthright honesty, integrity, and dedication to principle in his fifty years of public service to the nation.  The book was later published as Imperial Washington, on-line at Google Books.

Here is what Pettigrew states in his opening paragraph:

“The American people should know the truth about American public life. They have been lied to so much and hoodwinked so often that it would seem only fair for them to have at least one straight-from-the-shoulder statement concerning this government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people,’ about whose inner workings the people know almost nothing.”

He goes on to say:

“It is fifty years since I began to take an interest in public affairs. During those years I have been participating, more or less actively, in public life — first as a government surveyor, then as a member of the Legislature of Dakota; as a member of the House of Representatives and, finally as a member of the United States Senate. Since 1880 I have known the important men in both the Republican and Democratic parties; I have known the members of the diplomatic corps; I have known personally the last ten presidents of the United States, and I have known personally the leading business men who backed the political parties and who made and unmade the presidents. For half a century I have known public men and have been on the inside of business and politics. Through all of that time I have lived and worked with the rulers of America.”

Plutocracy means rule by the rich, those wealthy criminals who have used and manipulated the political mechanism of government to plunder and exploit the rest of us.

The book’s title, Triumphant Plutocracy, is a grim, ironic play upon Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s earlier banal book, Triumphant Democracy.

Triumphant Plutocracy is a seering indictment of the criminal elites which composed the governing class of America during this period.

Like Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope, this is an insider revealing the shocking truth of how the world really works in the corridors of power.

And because it is a first-person account, there is much in this book that is found nowhere else.

Pettigrew holds nothing back.

He names names.

He relates his candid conversations and behind-the-scenes interactions with the rich and powerful.

The frank accounts of his meetings with Theodore Roosevelt are alone worth the price of the book.

(By the way, TR did NOT “charge up San Juan Hill” in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Pettigrew has some fascinating information on that myth.)

Pettigrew details the land grabbing seizure of public lands, the fraud and thievery by the bankers, railroads, trusts, and tariff manipulators at the expense of the public.

He spares no one, including the Federal Reserve.

“Under the Federal Reserve Act the vast power of the thirty thousand American banks is concentrated in the hands of a little club with headquarters in Wall Street.  This club holds in its hands the power to make or to destroy any businessman in the United States; the power to make or wreck financial institutions and inaugurate panics; the power to issue credit, even money.  The bankers at the center of the financial web are endowed with the power of government.  .  .  Through their authority over money and credit, the bankers thus became the arbiters of the business destiny of the United States.  No one elected them.  No one can recall them.  There is no way in which they can be made the object of public approval or disapproval.  They are as far above public responsibility as was (Kaiser) William Hohenzollern before 1914.  Self-elected dictators of American life, they make and unmake; they wreck and rule.  They are the heart of business America — the center of the exploiting system that sits astride the necks of the people.”

Pettigrew is particularly eloquent on the criminal aggression of American imperialism and the rise of the American empire, that empire that continues to bankrupt our republic and earn us nothing but hate and enmity throughout the world.

First published in 1921, it is terrific to have this classic back in print and on-line, and I commend it to all LRC readers.

The great investigative journalist George Seldes was one of my personal heroes.

In his autobiography, Witness to a Century: Encounters with the Noted, the Notorious,and the Three SOBs, Seldes relates an interesting tale about this volume in chapter 22 of his book, “Lenin Speaks of His American Mentors.”

Seldes was in Moscow for the fifth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. He was one of the few American journalists who met V. I. Lenin and spent personal face-time with him.

Lenin discussed the tremendous impact two Americans had upon him.

First, the Socialist politician and writer Daniel De Leon, who had shaped Lenin’s interpretation of Marxism, and second, Pettigrew, whose book Lenin was presently reading.

Seldes made a note of the title of this work, which he wanted to promptly obtain when returning to America.  Seldes put down the title as Plutocratic Democracy.

For years he searched for a copy, but found that no book by that title existed.

When I read this account, I wrote Seldes to inform him that the book truly did exist, and that I have a first-edition copy.

I included a photocopy of the title page and table of contents in my correspondence.

Seldes graciously wrote me back, thanking me for correcting his error.

He soon died after that at the age of 104.

Like Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope, or Jules Archer’s The Plot To Seize The White House, Triumphant Plutocracy is one of the most important and revealing books you will ever read.

Its brilliant account of what was really going on in American life during the fifty years after the Civil War to World War I provides compelling reading.

9:48 pm on August 9, 2009